The Album About Nothing
Wale worries too much. About everything. It’s a fact. For someone as established as the D.C. rapper, he spends more time than necessary dealing with online trolls, which only adds to whatever issues already plague his everyday life.
Most people block out the trivial bullshit. But Wale doesn’t have those blinders. He told this very publication as much while in the process of making his fourth studio album, The Album About Nothing, alongside his co-pilot Jerry Seinfeld. It’s a trait that, while physically and emotionally draining for the rapper, helped create his most personal project to date. Consider The Album About Nothing a slice of life from the self-proclaimed Double M genius who dropped his first Seinfeld-inspired installment, The Mixtape About Nothing, in 2008.
The first half of the album starts out lyrically sharp as Wale tackles fickle fans and society’s ills, with Jerry’s metaphors and accompanying Seinfeld sound bites guiding the narrative. “The Helium Balloon” is a breakdown of the rapper’s bout with his volatile fanbase. “Some love to see you blow, they don't want see you pop,” he raps over DJ Dahi’s booming backdrop. “Tell the purist that laugh I don't reach out for daps/Cause ‘No Hands’ triple platinum.” Shots fired.
Wale's most compelling track on the album is “The Pessimist,” where he scatters out troubling storylines made in America, one of those being the fate of the black man. “Who am I to change perception?/If a nigga kill a nigga he's another statistic/If his skin's a little different they gon' say it was self-defense.” The record is a gripping moment tied up perfectly with a passionate chorus from J. Cole.
Elsewhere, Wale delivers his fed-up anthem of 2015 in “The Middle Finger,” which references his drug use—pills, weed, lean, ecstasy—as a remedy for dealing with the world as a successful black man now in his 30s. Like the women described on “The Girls on Drugs,” Wale is also jaded, which feeds into his dark mood throughout the project.
The album has no guest verses, which may come as a surprise considering Wale's feature-heavy albums in the past. Likewise, no one from his MMG team is present. They only receive one shout-out, and it’s on “The Middle Finger.” Read into that how you want. In the past, Wale has been criticized for switching up his style since joining the house that Rozay built, so he’s clearly made it a point here to prove he’s his own man.
The second half of The Album About Nothing is a bit more hit-and-miss than the opening seven tracks, with Wale inadvertently bringing his "nothing" concept to fruition. "The Success" doesn't share anything we haven't heard before. It really only serves to set up "The Glass Egg," which is a dope metaphor on balancing fame and friends, but again, been there done that. The album's one true moment of relief and cheer comes on "The God Smile," and the best line from that record highlights the kind of destruction that takes place in the inner city because of cocaine: "The white girl destroyed the black neighborhood/So white boys can run the world."
Wale has been criticized for switching up his style since joining the house that Rozay built, so he’s clearly made it a point here to prove he’s his own man.
A major theme that plays throughout The Album About Nothing is Wale’s relationship with women. Trials, tribulations, love, and lack thereof. Wale never fully finds his footing with the opposite sex, but the honesty in his rhymes reaches an admirable level of relatability. “The Need to Know” highlights the idea of friends with benefits, with SZA delivering a seductive rendition of Musiq Soulchild’s “Just Friends (Sunny),” while “The One Time in Houston” takes a trip down South where Wale has found love in the (strip) club. “Houston” is like the postscript of “Clappers.” After Wale stops throwing ones, he wants something more fulfilling. Stars—they’re just like us!
On a more serious note, “The Matrimony” offers up an open-letter to Wale’s future soulmate. Usher’s smooth vocals set the tone as Wale divulges his biggest fears in marriage, along with the painful memory of his girlfriend having a miscarriage, which pushed him to the point of depression. The track prior is all lovey dovey, and the bloom is now off the rose, so to speak, but Wale is committed to his lady, a concept not often shared by your favorite rapper.
With Jerry Seinfeld by his side, The Album About Nothing is what Wale has been waiting to deliver to his fans for half a decade now, which shouldn’t be confused with a project he could have made at the beginning of his career. Wale needed to grow through his 20s and take a few losses to discover his self-worth within the rap game, and more importantly, as a person. Ain't that something?
Edwin Ortiz is the associate editor, social of Complex Music. Follow him @iTunesEra.